New Mouse Model Could Lead to New Treatments for Post-Malaria Epilepsy
Children under 5 living in undeveloped countries are prone to malaria, and the mortality rate in these cases is not the only concern. Survivors may also develop epilepsy, and the number of cases is more than six times greater than in the West. The Penn State colleges of medicine, science, engineering, and agriculture have recently collaborated on developing a new mouse model designed to help understand and prevent the development of malaria-induced epilepsy in children. The research work comes as a response to the prevalence of malaria in children living in developing countries. Although treatments for malaria exist, no therapy has previously managed to deal with the problem of malaria-induced epilepsy. Up to 17% of survivors in cases of cerebral malaria develop epilepsy, leading to the recognition of malaria as one of the leading causes of epilepsy in the world.
How the Study Was Conducted
Pre-clinical testing has begun using four variations of a malaria mouse model to mimic the circumstances of post-malarial epilepsy as faithfully as possible. The requirements were extensive: the animal model used had to be as close as possible to the human version; it had to contract malaria, and it had to be cured by it in a way that would allow it to be susceptible to epilepsy. One of the secondary goals of the study was to discover the mechanism through which diseases like malaria could lead to the development of epilepsy in the first place. The use of four different models also allowed scientists to avoid a scenario in which the mice developed a strand of malaria that doesn’t affect humans. Finally, an additional aim was to explain cases of SUDEP (sudden unexplained death from epilepsy). This can happen as a result of epileptic seizures that cause impairment in breathing and heart function. Some instances of SUDEP were detected using the mouse models, allowing scientists to gather invaluable data about such cases. The first author on the paper was Paddy Ssentongo, an African physician who has extensive knowledge of the cases of malaria in Africa. The technology used for the study was placed at the scientists’ disposal by Penn State’s Center for Neural Engineering, where most of the research involving the studying of post-malarial epilepsy and SUDEP was conducted.
The Impressive Collaborative Work at the Penn State Colleges
The research represented a collaborative project between fields like neuroscience, electrical and mechanical engineering, as well as biology, public health sciences, and experimental physics. The groups of scientists from Penn State working together in unison managed to bridge the gap between different fields of science to not only study the development of the disease, but to achieve a better understanding of the physiology of malaria, as well as the theoretical and practical applications of the mouse model and the mechanics of biomedical engineering in general. Inspired to help African children in their struggle with post-malarial epilepsy, the work unified professors and students at Penn State, and in collaboration with their colleagues from Uganda, results were achieved that go far beyond what any individual group could have achieved without assistance.